Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Strathspey Climber Part 3: Boulders

Fourtet and Walking on Aviemore's Waterfall Boulder.
Continuing with my theme of the delights of being a climber living in Aviemore I’m now going to show you round the bouldering we’ve got to hand.

For me, it’s probably more important to have some semi-decent bouldering nearby than it is to have good cragging. Sure, I prefer to climb routes, but when you and everyone else works for a living we all know it can be tricky to co-ordinate a steady supply of partners. Sometimes it’s just easier to head out for a lone boulder after work. So, now I’m sure you’re wandering why I’m so happy living in Aviemore, since it’s hardly known as a bouldering Mecca? Well, look again. OK, maybe adjust your views of what comprises a quality boulder, then look again.

Unlike the brilliant bouldering that Fort William climbers have so close in Glen Nevis there’s no single venue in Strathspey, but if you start to hunt around and are willing to put in a little brush- or spade-time there is plenty of potential out there. Over the last few years a few intrepid Aviemorons (for that we are), led by Mike Gale of G2 Outdoor, have been scouring the area for rock and compiling them in a local’s guide. And the truth is that there’s actually quite a lot out there, it just needs more keen folk to open their eyes and get out to clean things up and keep them that way.

I definitely think that that’s one of the big differences between Highland climbing and elsewhere – there just aren’t as many climbers. I’m pretty sure that there are places in Strathspey that are in exactly the same state as some well known venues elsewhere were when they were first developed, the difference is that in the Lakes or Wales or the Peak there’s a steady stream of boulderers keeping them clean and chalked, so they become reinforced as quality places to go. Up here, exploratory bouldering is in it’s infancy so we’re still waiting on that steady stream…

Anyway, enough moaning, lets go climbing:

I’ll start close to town, heading through the forest to Burnside Bouldering Wall. Dappled with sunlight beneath the birch trees on the edge of the Burnside plantation, this clean wee wall is the Aviemore local’s secret training crag. The endless there-and-back traverse is great for endurance training, with just good enough rests at each end, and now that Mark and Gregor have cleaned the top there are a few good (and rather tricky) up problems too. When you’re done here, and if you don’t mind a walk, a kilometre or so further up the hill is the Waterfall Boulder. It might not be perfect for an out-of-the-car post-work session, but the location and views across the strath make up for the walk. This odd block is perched over a small burn, providing a couple of lip traverses, a few easier ups and some eliminate hardness, just don’t fall in!

A rough video of the Burnside Traverse.
While you’re sitting there, supping from your flask with adrenaline-shaking hands, you can’t help but look across to the granite corries of the Cairngorms and wonder about the bouldering potential there. You’ll be sad to know that, bizarrely, given the amount of bare rock, there isn’t that much bouldering. Unless you fancy a long trek into the Loch Avon Basin with your pad (which is to be recommended, I hear) your best bet is to head to the Link Road Boulder above the ski road. I had dismissed this as a bit of a silly stone until recently - the problems are all granite slopey weirdness that seem to take me ages to fathom - but with my new ‘local = worthwhile’ hat on I’ve had a couple of really good sunny evenings up there recently. Although the problems are limited, it’s definitely worth a visit.

The other accessible Cairngorm spot is Cranberry Rocks, up in Coire na Ciste, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t think any of the problems were worth the almost universally dodgy landings last time I went up there. I should probably go back with that hat on and prove myself wrong.

Continuing off the beaten track, have you ever heard of the Laggan boulders, or Inshriach, or Creag a’ Mhuilinn, or Pityoulish? Well, they’re all out there, waiting to be re-discovered and re-climbed and eventually, maybe, to be written up and published and expanded on. I grant you, the strength of Strathspey isn’t necessarily that it has the very best climbing nearby, it’s that is has a big variety within easy striking distance, and with enough active climbers doing their bit it could and should be recognised for that.

OK, enough spray. Now it’s time to get back in the car and head North up the A9 to the genuinely classy bouldering near Inverness. I’m no authority on the Inverness scene, but have spent a bit of time bouldering up there and can reel off a list of venues and problems that are as good as anywhere I've bouldered in Scotland (in good conditions!). Ruthven, Cummingston, Brin and Scatwell, to name a few. Over the past few years the likes of Richie Betts and the strong youths of Mike Lee and Ben Litster have started to put the Inverness area on the map for Scottish bouldering, so there's a fair bit to go at.

Forever failing on Masonic Finger Shake on Cummingston sandstone.

In my final (thrilling) installment of 'Strathspey Climber' I'll talk about all the other stuff you need to know about as a climber in these parts: walls, weather, coffee, beer, gear, etc.


steve said...

Nice one. After another skin ripping session on edinburgh's premier urban bouldering venue in blackford glen, I'm feeling the need to get out more. Have some leave owed me, so might head north when the weather perks up a bit. How are you for getting some time off on short notice? Steve

Andrew Moles said...

Nice. Esoterica for the win.

Tony said...

Yo Gaz, my dad informs me that during the whole time I was getting rained on in the Fort (and Aviemore was wet) for a week in late June he was enjoying sunshine on the South side of the gorms. ie Creag an Dubh Loch was dry. Worth the drive round perhaps?

Sarah Jones said...

fourtet and waslking, it's a classic! See you in 3 days!